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Neighborhoods hurt, millions of dollars wasted if schools close, says community investment group

Mar 6, 2017

Life Remodeled is a group pouring money and effort into fixing up Detroit Schools. It’s worked on Detroit’s Cody High School, Osborn High School and Denby High School.

Osborn High School
Credit SARAH CWIEK / MICHIGAN RADIO

All three of those have either individual schools or the entire campus that are on the list of 38 schools in danger of closure due to poor performance. (The state has offered schools on that list a chance to stay open.)

Life Remodeled has spent $15 million in the last three years on projects to benefit the Detroit community.

“We do three things: One, we remodel either a school or a community asset. Two, we repair owner-occupied homes. And the third thing we do is we mobilize at least 10,000 volunteers over a six-day process to clean up 300 city blocks,” said Chris Lambert, founder and CEO of Life Remodeled.

Lambert said when determining where to invest, his group talks with school principals and asks them what their facilities need. Each principal, he said, makes a detailed list of needs. After prioritizing the lists, Lambert said the group collaborates with community partners to make it happen.

“So we’ve done really cool projects like a medical simulation lab where firefighters actually train kids to be firefighters and they’re hirable straight out of high school,” he said. “We did that at Cody. They also teach EMTs and certified nursing assistants.”

At Osborn High School, Lambert said water used to pour through the roof every time it rained. Life Remodeled re-roofed the building, stopping all the leaks.

When the group invested in these schools, Lambert said he had no idea the state was considering closing them.

“We spend hours and hours of research before we ever make a decision to make an investment in a school or a neighborhood,” he said. “And so, when it came to the schools in particular, I mean we’re very familiar with the fact that many schools have closed down since 2000. The landscape has changed a lot in Detroit Public Schools and so we definitely did a lot of research to find out if those schools had any chance of closing.”

He said his group talked to the Detroit Public Schools and explained its plans to the state.

“There were no red flags whatsoever,” he said. “Everything pointed to that these were places to invest for years and years to come.”

Still, some maintain that closing failing schools will ultimately help the Detroit Public Schools Community District by winnowing out the failing schools and putting those resources into higher-performing schools.

Hear Lambert’s full response above.

“Closings schools without a better alternative is writing off these kids," he said. "It’s writing off the neighborhoods. It will lead to increased criminal activity and it’s a very poor plan.”

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